"Suddenly We See" Why KT Tunstall Sold Out the Bowery Ballroom
As music journalists, we cover a lot of concerts. Some are memorable, most are fun, and a scant few of them you forget about after the closing song of the encore.
And then there are concerts that stick with you, for days, months—even years after you’ve seen them. Demi Lovato’s performance at the Barclay’s Center in March 2018. Honne featuring JONES at Webster Hall in August 2016. BBMAK at at The Gramercy Theatre in May 2019. On Saturday, May 18, KT Tunstall without a doubt joined—and perhaps even topped—the list of performers whose concerts Music & Mojitos will remember for years to come.
Fiery, edgy, charming, and undeniably multi-talented, KT Tunstall delivered her much-anticipated performance to her die-hard New York fans at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The performance was rescheduled from a previous November date, which was canceled due to illness.
Tunstall was a household name in the early 2000s, back when she released her first album, Eye to the Telescope.” With mega-hits like “Suddenly I See” and “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” Tunstall had fans buzzing, and went on to release several more albums over the course of her 15+ year career.
In 2018, Tunstall released her sixth album, WAX, which is no less impacting than her first smash hit record, if for the sheer variety of sound it encompasses. WAX “waxes” nostalgic (if you’ll allow us the pun) with synth sounds reminiscent of the ‘80s fused with electro-rock harmonies. And then of course there are alt-rock and acoustic songs that hearken back to the sounds that first made the indie performer famous. It’s an incredibly diverse and eclectic album, where no two songs sound the same.
Tunstall treated her audience to several songs off of WAX, including the album’s memorable opener, “Little Red Thread.”
“The inspiration for [Little Red Thread] came when I was sitting on an airplane thinking about how these planes come in from all over the world, connecting us to each other and meeting in the middle like some crazy ball of yarn,” Tunstall explained to her enthralled audience. Before launching into the song, she held one end of a red string she brought with her, and gave the other end to a lucky fan member at the front of the stage, illustrating our interconnectivity.
In between songs like “The River” and “In This Body,” KT Tunstall established the perfect balance between performance and banter. Her story-telling, conversational approach created a rhythm and relationship between the audience and the musicians in a way that only smaller, intimate venues like Bowery Ballroom can generate. In response to “If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life with no impact on your health, what would it be?” (a question posed to her by her drummer), Tunstall responded “Spaghetti and meatballs and a strawberry milkshake!” It was her capacity to share stories in an entertaining and engaging way, in between powerful, emotional songs that truly created a memorable experience. Somehow, Tunstall managed to take a group of strangers in a dark New York City basement venue and make us all friends for a night.
What blew Music & Mojitos away the most was Tunstall’s ability to balance a wide variety of skills and talents. During her much-anticipated performance of “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” Tunstall created two separate repeating beats on her synthesizer, played the guitar, sang, AND stamped on her tambourine. In another song, she whistled in a way that would’ve made Otis Redding jealous, while in yet another, she somehow managed to make the kazoo seem like a cool, legitimate instrument.
Furthermore, she kept her energy levels up throughout the entire duration of the concert. “Being in NYC and being able to play here is a dream come true for every performer, and I’m so grateful to you for allowing that to happen,” Tunstall said at one point. Based on the fire and passion she brought to every song, you could tell that she genuinely meant it.
It wasn’t all energetic, high-frequency performances from Tunstall, of course. In a particularly touching tribute, Tunstall turned it down with a heartfelt performance of her song “The Night That Bowie Died,” paying homage to a legend in the music industry. She also explained the circumstances behind her November concert date cancellation.
“I woke up one morning and had completely lost hearing in my ear,” Tunstall told the crowd. “Then, shortly after, I lost my ability to balance, walk up stairs, even cross the street by myself. It was absolutely terrifying and scary, and I didn’t know what was going to happen.” Tunstall told her captivated fans that during this time, the song “Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers became her salvation and personal anthem.
Amazingly, Tunstall still lacks hearing in her left ear, but she was determined not to let that stop her from pursing her dreams. “The doctors don’t know when or even if it will get better, so I had to accept it. It was scary, but once I told myself ‘this is the new normal,’ my brain just adapted,” Tunstall said. “So I encourage all of you who are scared to do something—to just try, tell yourself to try and see what you can do.” She then launched into a soulful cover of “Won’t Back Down,” the kind of performance that sends goosebumps down your spine.
If anything, KT Tunstall has proven the impossible—that she’s become even more talented with age, and her latest album contains gems worthy of rivaling her biggest hits from 2004. And speaking of her biggest hits, she of course ended her set with an interactive version of “Suddenly I See.” Fans had been waiting for that song the entire night, and of course the audience went wild when they heard the opening notes on Tunstall’s guitar.
KT Tunstall certainly knows how to give a hell of a performance. Her opener Maddie Ross was also charming, sweet, quirky, and charismatic. With likable, humorous, and fun songs like “Liv Tyler” and “The Riddle,” Music & Mojitos can think of no more a perfect choice to set the stage for Tunstall. Tunstall’s searing vocals and ability to connect with her audience turned a performance into an experience - and that’s what music is all about.
Banner Photo by Kyle Stevens.